Wednesday, 04 April 2012


Many grapes can produce both good and bad wines. But are there any varieties you should never go near with a corkscrew? Our wine columnist, Henry Jeffreys, investigates

Like Freemasons, we wine bores have certain code words so that we can recognise each other in general company – I touched on this last month. When you suspect a new acquaintance might be into wine you say, ‘I like German Riesling.’ If the response is ‘I had an Urzinger Wurzgarten Spatlese the other day,’ then you’re in but if they say ‘yuck, Blue Nun,’ then you blush furiously and change the subject. These days, however, information travels so fast that the code words have become mainstream; last year oldschool Rioja went from cult favourite to an article in the ‘How To Spend It’ section of the Financial Times (the magazine for those who need a magazine to help them spend their money) in a couple of months. Because of this the shibboleths have changed, instead one must mention a wine that you don’t like.

This is fraught with danger, as you could end up looking like a fool for dismissing something out of hand. For example, people often say they don’t like Chardonnay, thinking that this makes them sound sophisticated when actually they are showing their ignorance. What they mean is they are sick of the sort of blousy sweet Australian stuff they had too much of in the late 1980s. There is one variety, however, that everyone agrees is nasty – Pinotage. This grape was created in South Africa in 1926 by crossing Pinot Noir with Cinsault (known as Hermitage in South Africa at the time, hence the name). Pinotage has never caught on outside its home country. Even there it attracts strong feelings: one of South Africa’s top winemakers, André van Rensberg, has been quoted as saying: ‘Don’t steal, rape, or murder – or make Pinotage.’ Could it be that awful?

I decided to investigate. As a contrarian, I wanted to say that the wine experts are wrong but really some of them are horrid. The Zalze Pinotage 2010 I bought from Majestic smelt of solvents and tasted like stewed coffee (apparently these are the classic flavours of Pinotage and in its favour, it did work well poured into a chilli con carne). Some of the others were worse. For the moment a dislike for Pinotage is a safe way of gaining acceptance. But the wine world has a habit of turning a received opinion on its head. I’ve heard rumours that fine old Pinotages have been found in the cellars of Cape Town. Next year it might be the latest thing and I’ll look very foolish indeed.

Did you know?

Cabernet Sauvignon, the basis for Latour, Lafite and Mouton Rothschild, is a cross between the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc grape.

Wines of the month 

Kaapzicht Pinotage 2008 South Africa.
Perhaps Pinotage just needs a bit of time to lose those peculiar flavours. Yes, it’s still got a bit of a stink to it but it also has lots of ripe red fruit and is delightfully smooth. This would work well with some charred meat. £13.20, Tanners Wine Merchants.

Percheron Old Vine Cinsault Boutinot 2010
South Africa. Made from one of Pinotage’s parents, this is fruity, perfumed and is good chilled. Widely available for about £6 – try

Meerlust, Pinot Noir 2008 South Africa. 
This is from the other parent, Pinot Noir, a grape that often turns to jam outside its home in Burgundy. Not so at Meerlust, one of South Africa’s most lauded estates. This combines sweet raspberry fruit with a freshness and liveliness that brings to mind the best of France. The 2008 is astounding stuff and it’s worth tracking down. The 2009 is a little more austere and acidic. Try Inverarity in Glasgow,

Zalze, Chenin Blanc 2011 South Africa. 
There are acres of old Chenin Blanc vines in South Africa. Known locally as Steen, they were used to make Cape brandy but now go to make oceans of supermarket wines at knock-down prices. If you’re prepared to pay a little more (over £5), this is an excellent bargain. With lots of peach and melon fruit, this is an elegant and refreshing wine. A steal at £5.59 from Tesco or Waitrose. 

Weinert, Merlot, 2006 Argentina. 
A rich, mature Argentine wine for the claret lover, this reminds me of an old leather sofa in a gentleman’s club but with some extra cushioning. £8.99 at Majestic Wine.

Chateau d’Angles Classique, 2008 
La Clape, France. A meaty blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mouvedre made by Chateau Lafite-Rothschild at their estate in the Languedoc. Smelling of olives and rosemary, it has an uncanny ability to transport you to where the grapes were grown with just one whiff. Close your eyes and you are in the South of France. £11.99, Wine Rack.

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